There’s an old adage that man’s best friend is his dog. It should be no surprise, then, that in March of 1955, writer Otto Binder and artist Curt Swan introduced Krypto in Adventure Comics #210, a story featuring Superboy. Over the years, Krypto would appear in various stories where appropriate and, in a move that will surprise no one, Warner Bros. Pictures decided to greenlight a project centered on Krypto, along with Batman’s dog Ace and several other animals. The concept is silly, reeks of IP recycling, and, overall, seems like a cash-grab wrapped up in adorable animal-friendly packaging. Even if all of that is true, the Jared Stern-directed DC League of Super-Pets is sweet and charming, actually, with purposeful animation, a carefully constructed narrative, and vocal performances that’ll charm the socks off the most naysaying naysayer. It’s flummoxing how much fun the film is, leaning into its ridiculousness with the kind of sincerity and seriousness that’s not too dissimilar from the setups and execution of classic comedy like Airplane! (1980). Now I know what you’re thinking, “Surely you can’t be serious?” I am — I am as floored to acknowledge that as the next person (and don’t call me Shirley).
In the final moments before Krypton was destroyed, parents Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Alfred Molina and Lena Headey) tuck their infant son, Kal-El, into a space craft in hopes of saving him from their planet’s fate. Unwilling to part with his friend, puppy Krypto sneaks aboard, making sure that Kal would have company and to keep him safe. Years later, the two remain inseparable as Earth’s protectors: Superman and Krypto! But when a plot by Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) is co-opted by a mad genius guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon), not only is Superman rendered helpless, so is the rest of the Justice League. The only ones left to stop Lulu and her terrible scheme are Krypto and a few recently-powered up animals who shared animal shelter space with Lulu. Can the powerful pup stop the pernicious pig with a few plucky peeps pitching in? Tune in to find out!
Confession Time: I enjoy a lot of different styles of humor, but thanks to my wife (EoM Editor Crystal Davidson) and my eldest brother, I’ve had it up to here with puns. They exhaust me. Even if they make me laugh, it hurts my soul. That said, the execution of the puns and other jokes in Super-Pets is handled so beautifully, so in-line with the over tone and animation style of the world and its inhabitants, that all I could do is slow clap. Sure, it’s a PG-rated animated feature produced and distributed by WB, therefore no one expects this to be Snyder Dark™. That’s a fair assumption. Yet co-writers Stern and John Whittington (The LEGO Batman Movie) manage to manipulate this world so that it merges the art deco style of classic Superman tales and bends it into a caricature of itself. Everything is bright and beautiful to the point that even the things that should terrify are hilarious to witness. This is why the designs for Superman and the rest of the Justice League are so close to what audiences recognize, while taking various liberties. If none of this is clear within the first 25 minutes, as the central story really kicks off, Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde) calls the Justice League for help and the automated voice prompts her to press specific buttons for help on a precise Earth (1, 2, 3 is heard before the scene cuts away) implying that at least this JL is aware of the multiverse, making this tale occur right within one. Therefore, anything is possible and everything is probable, giving way to an adventure that’s simultaneously lovingly sweet and safely adventurous that anyone of any age can enjoy.
What surprises the most in Super-Pets (beyond the pleasing art design) are the performances. McKinnon is absolute perfection, giving off Jillian Holtzman vibes (Ghostbusters: Answer the Call) in the best way possible. Her performance of Lulu provides the kind of scenery-chewing that detracts none from the character’s perceived seriousness and fails to distract the audience from what’s occurring. Her energy is perfect, literally no notes. Opposite her are Johnson and Hart, a duo that’s been working together since 2016’s Central Intelligence, as Krypto and Ace. They have great chemistry together in their projects and, just when you think they’ve gotten stale, their performances here surprise. Johnson dials back the typical machismo, leaning into his charm and positivity, making Krypto loveable in a way that authentically matches the sincerity of Superman. Hart, ever the comedian, does deliver quite a few jokes, but the delivery is far more understated, matching the growl and grimace of a lighter version of The Dark Knight. In supportive roles, Diego Luna (The Book of Life), Vanessa Bayer (Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar), and Natasha Lyonne (Russian Doll) each get their moments to shine, their purpose to the narrative and their respective arcs bringing appropriate weight to the message of teamwork. The character that stands out the most from these three is Luna’s Chip, a squirrel whose anxiety is so crippling that he freezes, literally in one case, under the weight of all the possible outcomes any choice is makes has. He’s treated with love and support from his friends, is never mocked or demeaned, and his overcoming of this isn’t approached as an immediate cure-all, just a revelation of self. Perhaps it’s that I know someone in the prime target audience for this film who is similar to Chip in some regards (minus the lightning powers, thankfully), but seeing someone like him on the screen will do them and others a great deal of good. Being Krypto the Superdog and Ace the Bat-hound is one thing, but being Chip? That’s us all.
Considering the apparent specificity at play in the performances, the art direction, character design, and narrative that’s obvious to anyone watching, it should come as no surprise to have all of this intentionality confirmed via the bonus features. On all versions save the DVD, there are roughly 51 minutes of additional materials to enjoy and explore. There’s a 14+ minute featurette “Behind the Super Voices,” where the home-viewing audience is invited to get a behind-the-scenes look at how they recorded the film, how the cast approached their performances, and how the cast informed the characters themselves. It’s a mixture of more professional marketing-stylized interviews and more off-the-cuff captured moments that highlight, at least for me, why Johnson is as he presents himself: an actor dedicated to his craft. As someone who loves Faster (2010) and is tired of the similarity between so many of the machismo-fueled characters he plays, watching him work on giving Krypto life demonstrates how much more he can do. Comic fans will take a great deal of pleasure in the three-and-a-half minute “Find the Easter Eggs” featurette as it showcases many of the comic book-related references the artists hid in plain sight.
The real surprises, and I write that with sincerity, are the remaining three featurettes — “How to Draw Krypto,” “Super-Pets Animation,” and “The World of Super-Pets,” which I had presumed would be as informative to the story at large as the SCOOB! drawing featurettes are. Rather than just drill solely into the “how-to” aspects, audiences are also given a “why” to go with it. Listening to animation supervisor Dave Burgess (The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part) discuss how Krypto’s head is designed in the same shape of the Superman crest, I whispered to myself “because it means hope,” connecting Krypto’s almost endless positivity to what it means to be Superman. That’s when Burgess looks at the camera and says the same thing, before providing his own explanation about the intent of this design. The rest of that featurette and the other two follow the same pattern where they dig into the technical aspects of the film while also providing backstory on the development and the vision the producers, writer/director team, and cast contained for the film. For a film aimed at families, it’s nice to see bonus materials aimed at all audiences.
In case you’re the sort who’s conflicted on which version of the film to purchase, either digital vs. physical, and if physical, which format…given how Warner Bros. Discovery is started to cancel projects and remove their digital versions from the Internet, I recommend *not* sticking with the digital edition solely. Digital editions, like subscribing to a streamer, means you’re renting not owning and the license-holder can remove your access at any time. If you opt for the DVD, as mentioned, that version only includes the “Behind the Super Voices” featurette, but maybe you only want the film anyway and that’s an easy way to enjoy it. If, however, you prefer a higher definition experience, consider myself shocked to say that if 4K UHD is available as an option, go with that. There’s a vibrancy to several sequences that look outstanding in 4K (such as the initial fight between Superman and Lulu). I’m sure it looks good on Blu, but if you’re trying to decide between the two, my absolute recommendation is the 4K edition.
As I stated at the start, Super-Pets is a startlingly good time. It knows what kind of story it wants to tell, crafted a world in which everything it seeks to do is plausible, and cast central and supporting cast members that make it real. If one were to make a comparison of this property to other DC-related projects, Super-Pets is like a more serious version of Teen Titans Go! — accessible, silly, and yet unwilling to make things crass just because they can. Rather, as one would expect from a Superman-esque tale, Super-Pets aspires to inspire, to remind audiences that we all possess the ability to do good, we need only make the choice and follow through.
DC League of Super-Pets 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and Digital Special Features:
- How to Draw Krypto (6:50)
- Behind the Super Voices (14:35)
- Super-Pets Animation 101 (8:19)
- The World of Super-Pets (7:42)
- Find the Easter Eggs (3:35)
- Five (5) Deleted Scenes (9:54)
DC League of Super-Pets 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and Digital Special Features:
- Behind the Super Voices (14:35)
Available on digital-to-own August 23rd, 2022.
Available on HBO Max September 26th, 2022.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 4th, 2022.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.